David Rakel, MD David Rakel, MD

World Rural Health Conference Comes to New Mexico

UNM Department of Family & Community Medicine Co-Hosts International Event

Just to be clear, WONCA does not refer to the owner of a chocolate factory.

In fact, it’s an acronym formed from the first five initials of the World Organization of National Colleges, Academies and Academic Associations of General Practitioners/Family Physicians (aka the World Organization of Family Doctors).

And later this week, WONCA will stage its 2019 World Rural Health Conference in Albuquerque in partnership with the National Rural Health Association and the UNM Department of Family & Community Medicine.

The conference, which runs from October 12-15, has already signed up 600 participants from around the world, says David Rakel, MD, UNM’s chair of Family & Community Medicine.

“I think this is the first time in eight or nine years that it’s back in the United States,” he says. More than a year of planning has gone into preparing for the event.

The conference, based at the Albuquerque Convention Center, will include keynote speeches from luminaries like NASA physician Eric Antonsen, who will speak about the "Rural Clinician for Mars" and his experiences practicing medicine in isolation and extreme circumstances, and a live session with experts across the globe showcasing UNM’s Project ECHO telemedicine platform.

There will also be practical workshops on dealing with obstetrical emergencies, point-of-care ultrasound and emergency stabilization, IUD placement and joint injection, cryotherapy, skin biopsy and dermoscopy, Rakel says.

The conference will feature field visits around New Mexico, including the Albuquerque Opportunity Center, Heading Home project and Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless, Acoma Sky City, the South Valley Commons and the Southeast Heights Center for Family & Community Health, Rakel says.

“We wanted to get people out into our community and our cultures to give them a sense of what New Mexico is like,” Rakel says. The conference is set to kick off during the second weekend of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and will also afford the visitors a chance to see a mass ascension.

Conference themes include the challenges of nursing in rural health settings and improving the health of island communities, Rakel says.

UNM faculty members and learnersuerque will play a prominent role at the conference. Sanjeev Arora, MD, Project ECHO founder and director, will deliver a keynote, and Jaron Kee, a first-year family medicine resident, will lead recitation of the Declaration of Geneva in Navajo.

The conference will also feature a screening of “The Providers,” an award-winning public television documentary that followed three Northern New Mexico health care providers over the course of several years as they grappled with the unique health concerns of rural communities. The documentary prominently features Matthew Probst, a graduate of UNM’s physician assistant program and medical director of the El Centro Family Health network of community clinics.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A discussion that is open to the community, Rakel says.

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